Justice Vespers talk at Holden Village


The learning never stops - even after graduation from the Wilderness School. What does it mean for us, today to settle in the land? What is OUR call as people of God?

I’ve been asked to share a few of my own stories about on of the lessons I’ve been learning in my years in God’s School -- lessons on peacemaking.

In 1981, at the height of the Cold War and the Arms Race, I joined a group of 5 others in scaling the 12’ high fence surrounding the Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Amarillo, Texas. It was our attempt to put our prayers for peace into action by going to pray at the place where all US nuclear weapons are assembled. Reading the Scriptures from inside a jail cell over the next 6 months gave me a whole new, exciting perspective on the Bible.

In 1983 a group of us from Koinonia and Jubilee Partners started tracking “The White Train” as it came through Georgia -- delivering over 200 nuclear warheads to Poseidon and Trident Submarines. After 2 years of candlelight prayer vigils alongside the railroad tracks whenever the train came through, I joined 4 other Christians in sitting on the tracks in front of that train of death to say “no” to preparing for a nuclear holocaust.

Those warheads are no longer shipped across the country by train but our nation now plans to ship the nuclear waste generated by these weapons and from power plants through our communities again en route to a questionable ‘burial site’ in Nevada. People of faith who are committed to caring for the environment, of God’s creation, need to be prepared to sit in front of trains again.

What does it mean today to be a follower of Jesus when one’s nation is at war? Many Americans carry on with life as usual, forgetting that our President has declared war with the acquiescence of Congress.

I came of age during the Vietnam years. The country was at war and I was forced to make a personal decision on my 18th birthday in 1968.
Caesar was calling me to war but the words of Jesus stood in stark contrast: “love your enemies!” Back then the draft helped young men face the issue: what do I do when my country comes calling? To whom do I belong? To whom or to what do I pledge my allegiance and my body?

Today we live in a time of economic conscription. Although young men are still required to register for a Draft, political leaders are hesitant to re-establish the draft for fear of waking a new generation to realities of the American Empire.

Yes, at times we forget that we live inside the Empire. Although we’d like to identify with Moses & Miriam, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack & Abendego, Jesus, the Mary’s of the gospels, and Paul; our situation as Americans place us squarely in the same role as the Egyptians, the Persians, the brutal Roman Empire, and the Conquistadors. Other empires have come and gone.

What does it mean to live within an Empire which routinely oppresses other people (and some of its own people) economically and now has declared war an unlimited war on unnamed peoples? The war on “terror” is a war on whomever our nation’s leaders define as “terrorist”. Some of these same national leaders financed the Contra War in Nicaragua and the wars of repression and terror in Central America in the ‘80’s.

Even as we “settle in this land”, we are called to be “Strangers in a Strange Land” because we choose to follow the way of Jesus. Our primary identity is not as Americans, Canadians, Germans, or even Norwegians -¬but rather as citizens of the Realm of God - our allegiance is pledged to the way of the cross and the empty tomb!

How do we pledge allegiance to the Realm of God in a time of war? How can we let our light shine in a time of darkness? Let me give a few other examples of how I’ve tried to follow the calling of Jesus to be a peacemaker.

For close to 20 years, people of faith have gathered at the gates of Fort Benning, GA - calling for the closing of the School of the Americas. I was part of a small group of Christians from Koinonia Partners & Habitat for Humanity who started a monthly candlelight vigil in the mid eighties.

We never dreamed that our group of 12-20 people would grow to an annual gathering of over 10,000 people each November saying, “No mas, No more!” to the training of soldiers from any country to oppress their own people.

In the aftermath of September 11th, the US Empire, reacting from both fear and anger (as well as a strong dose of revenge) decided to bomb Afghanistan with a massive show of force and determination. In October, the US dropped cluster bombs on that country - a weapon the Red Cross has determined kills 5 times as many children as adults when they fall to the ground as “duds”. While researching the war on the Internet, I discovered that the cluster bombs used were manufactured by Alliant Techsystems of Edina, MN.

So, on November 7th, 16 peacemakers out of a group of 65 protesters risked arrest when we carried “caution” and “warning flags” to the headquarters of that weapons manufacturer. After arrest and trial, I asked the judge to sentence me to jail instead of “community service” because our witness of civil disobedience was already an act of service to the world community. And service is something we do from our hearts rather than because of an order of a court. As a punishment, 6 of the 15 of us chose to go to jail. 3 of the 6 were nuns in their 60’s and 70’s. The seven days the nuns spent locked up changed the nature of that jail - at least the women’s unit!

Not all of us are called to climb fences, sit in front of trains, or prayerfully enter military bases. It is important to remember that peacemaking involves both saying “yes” as well as saying “no”.

For me, saying ‘yes’ is my work for Habitat for Humanity, trying to bridge the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”. If the cause of many wars is economic, Habitat may be one of the most significant peacemaking organizations today.

Early last month, friends of mine from the Jubilee Partners Community in Georgia took one half of their members to the border between Israel and Jordan - in sight of the Golan Heights. This was just one month after the brutal incursion of Israeli tanks and troops into the West Bank. These Christian peacemakers built a home in partnership with a Muslim family under the new Habitat project just started in Jordan -- an act of peacemaking in a part of the world that has not known peace for many years. Through an act of Service, potential enemies of our nation are loved as Jesus taught us.

Dan Berrigan writes: “We cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war - at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake”.

The cost of peacemaking, at times, will be high - but we serve a risen Christ and a God who will never leave us or forsake us. As I was waiting for the prison guard to unlock my cell door 3 weeks ago at 5 AM when I was scheduled to be released, I couldn’t help but to start quietly singing a song I learned at a Peace Pentecost gathering hosted by Sojourners in Washington, DC. They learned it from friends in South Africa: “It doesn’t matter if you should jail us, we are free and kept alive by hope.” Another song I sang as I waited, a song of brothers and sisters in the struggle through the years “Oh Freedom, oh Freedom, oh Freedom, Freedom is coming oh yes I know (Marty Haugen begins to play the song).

Let us live in that FREEDOM AND HOPE, following our Lord - striving to be peacemakers in a time of war. Freedom is coming, oh yes I know!